ReadWriteBody is an ongoing series where ReadWrite covers networked fitness and the quantified self.

MyFitnessPal, the maker of a food-and-exercise-tracking app with more than 50 million users, is announcing the acquisition of online fitness-coaching service Sessions Wednesday morning, for an undisclosed amount.

In November, I wrote that coaching was becoming the next big thing in fitness apps. Sessions was of the services I highlighted. Cofounders Nick Crocker and Ben Hartney and their team are joining MyFitnessPal—in fact, they’ve been quietly working from MyFitnessPal’s San Francisco offices for the past few weeks.

It’s a big move for MyFitnessPal—the company's first acquisition, and its first push to provide more than just tracking and community features. And it signals the company’s quiet ambitions in digital fitness.

“We're trying to create a world where it’s easier to be healthy than to be unhealthy,” Lee told me. 

Help Is On The Way

Sessions is shutting down its existing coaching service, for which it charged between $69 and $199 a month, depending on the plan. But Crocker is working on bringing coaching features into MyFitnessPal.

Sessions cofounder Nick Crocker is on the move … to MyFitnessPal. Sessions cofounder Nick Crocker is on the move … to MyFitnessPal.

Already, MyFitnessPal users are taking over existing features, like the app’s social activity feed and the site's forums, to serve as each other’s informal coaches. Since I've been talking about my use of MyFitnessPal, which helped me lose 83 pounds, my friends have asked me if I'd help them stay on track when they signed up for the app. And just last month, MyFitnessPal forum members started an “Adopt a Noob” thread, where experienced members offered to advice newcomers. (“Noob" is an alternate form of “newbie,” Internet slang for “new user.”)

That peer-to-peer support has worked well for many MyFitnessPal users. But there’s clearly potential to do more. Sessions saw its subscribers complete 80% of the workouts assigned by a coach, and overall, 90% stuck to their programs.

"Everything we've learned about keeping people engaged with their health over a meaningful length of time will end up in the MyFitnessPal product in one way, shape, or form,” Crocker said.

The Hub Of Fitness

Where the addition of coaching to MyFitnessPal gets really interesting is when you factor in the strength of its API, or application programming interface, which is used by a growing number of fitness device makers and app developers. Lee estimates that 80% of wearable fitness devices now offer some kind of integration with MyFitnessPal.

Right now, most of those API relationships feed data into MyFitnessPal. It's intriguing to think about what happens when those relationships become bidirectional, with MyFitnessPal tapping into its data about your food consumption and exercise to make recommendations about what to do next.

Add human coaches to interpret that data and offer accountability that you can’t get from an algorithm, and the combination could really make a difference to people who struggle with their weight or health.

"The majority—not all—but the majority of people know what they need to do, they just have a real struggle applying it consistently over time,” Crocker told me. "That's what's powerful about coaching, it lets people be that better version of themselves."

Crocker and Lee aren't ready to talk about exactly what MyFitnessPal’s coaching products will look like. But it’s easy to imagine a smart mix of products that are an extension of what they’ve done so far.

  • Some users might get free social support from other users and simple advice generated algorithmically from the data they feed into MyFitnessPal.
  • Others might get matched with similar MyFitnessPal users into groups for Weight Watchers-style coaching for a lower fee.
  • And for more money, those who want it may get one-on-one coaching—similar to a personal trainer, but less expensive because it’s done over email, text, and video chat.